Trade Union membership has fallen in the developed world in recent years due to the decline in manufacturing. During boom times people did not see a need to be a member of a trade union and membership fell sharply, particularly after the miners strike in Britain in the 1980s.
The main role of a trade union is to
1) give advice about problems at work
2) represent employees in discussions with employers
3) ensure that the employees legal rights are enforced
4) get involved in cases before employment tribunals
5) fight discrimination
6) promote equality at work
Due to the decline in manufacturing there are less men in trade unions than in the past. Trade Unions are attracting a greater female and ethnic membership and this raises issues such as access to training, promotion, recruitment and job access for underrepresented and these and other marginalised groups.
Trade Unions have been relatively slow to embrace diversity because they feared that highlighting different interests might undermine solidarity over bargaining issues and weaken their influence in the marketplace.
However it is now recognised that different groups prioritise different issues eg. women are more likely than men to value the opportunity to take time off, other groups value alternative religious holidays.
I decided to “Google” some of the Irish Trade Unions to see if they have an equality and diversity policy. I could not find any mention of “diversity” on the IMPACT website or on the Irish Bank Officials Association website. SIPTU (Society for Irish Professional and Technical Union) has reference to a number of articles on diversity on its website. SIPTU announced the winner of the first Equality-Diversity Award in June 2002. A publication entitled “Diversity in the Workplace – a Guide for Shop Stewards” in March 2006 and in 2008 during InterCultural and Anti Racism Week SIPTU (Western Region) hosted a seminar on Diversity.
By contrast I could not find anything specifically on Diversity on the website of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (the umbrella body). They seem to have had a number of seminars on equality issues but there does not appear to be mention of Diversity except by reference to a European Equality Summit held in Brussels in November 2010 which mentions diversity charters aimed at encouraging companies to implement and develop diversity policies.
Finally I would like to commend Dublin Bus who have an Equality and Diversity Strategy and I like their definition of diversity
“Diversity embraces the range of individual skills, educational qualifications, work experience, cultural background, languages and other relevant attributes and experiences that we bring to the workplace. It is about linking the positive aspects of these differences with the business needs of the organisation”.